Published: April 26, 2024

Name: Kayli Sarbaugh 
Advisor: Prof. Katherine Arnold-Murray
Class: LING 1000: Language in US Society
Semester: Fall 2023
LURA 2024


While memes and slang words go in and out of popularity as language changes overtime, TikTok has a way of keeping terms relevant and up to date through the advertisements and videos we so effortlessly scroll through daily. One of the most interesting emerging phrases I have come across lately is Girl Math. This concept caught fire and quickly gave way to other kinds of “maths” like boy math, cat math, and dog math, leaving a fantastic example of how popular language spreads like wildfire. The Girl Math meme is compelling to analyze because thousands of women have humorously used it online while it also contains potentially sexist and harmful metamessages about women. 


Kayli Sarbaugh image 1

Figure 1. Calculating "Girl Math" in TikTok comments (


Girl Math is a fantastic example of how language use varies from generation to generation. Because it emerged over TikTok, a social media platform dominated by younger users, Girl Math is more recognizable to younger generations than older ones. When I first heard of Girl Math on TikTok I found it amusing, and I showed examples of the meme to my parents so they could laugh along with me. However, they did not find any of the videos, including my favorite "Girl Math: BarkBox” video, amusing or compelling. The “Girl Math: BarkBox” video utilizes the popular language of Girl Math and positively impacts presentation of self when directed towards the correct audience, which in this case, would be younger generations like mine, Gen Z. In the BarkBox ad, a dog uses Girl Math to convince his owner, a young adult woman, to continue to subscribe to BarkBox, doing calculations following the logic of Girl Math to show how the owner will save money in the future if she keeps her subscription with BarkBox. Below is a transcript of the ad


Kayli Sarbaugh image 2


Throughout the dialogue in this advertisement, BarkBox utilizes common popular words and phrases like Girl Math and “delulu” to connect with the audience they’re targeting—young female dog owners. While using Girl Math logic, which interestingly enough is described as “stupid” by the dog despite benefiting his interests, this advertisement works to convince its audience that by spending more money on its monthly boxes, subscribers will save money on other things that would need to be bought without a subscription. This is the epitome of Girl Math: logic that claims that spending money on something or getting money back that you otherwise wouldn’t have had is a form of making or saving money. For example, the ad argues that by spending less money on dog toys and treats through a BarkBox subscription, the subscriber is actually saving enough money by not purchasing these items elsewhere when they normally would, so it is “basically free.”  

While this is incredibly smart marketing and positively engages with its target audience by utilizing popular slang, there are still negatives that come with the usage of the term Girl Math, including those contained within the underlying metamessage of the language used in the meme. Tannen (2013) conceptualizes that “metamessages communicate how a speaker intends a message or how a hearer interprets a message – what it says about the relationship that one utters these words in this way in this context” (p. 101). There are a couple different metamessages that can be taken from the term Girl Math. First, the reference form Girl Math instead of simply “math” implies that girls and women have their own kind of math—this has been critiqued as a sexist implication that girls are not good at math and cannot handle money intelligently. Even during the BarkBox video, the male dog calls the term “stupid”, denoting there’s something negative about using Girl Math to justify spending. While the root of this term could be intended as misogynistic, I believe that women can also use it in a positive manner to discuss spending habits and claim the term as our own. 

Women’s spending habits are often criticized in the media. By creating a meme which positively constructs those spending habits and allows women to share more openly with one another, women can come together and create new norms around spending and saving not oriented around monetary norms largely established by men. The BarkBox video received about 5.5 thousand likes and over 114.4 thousand views, demonstrating the positive reception of the ad overall by the intended audience.


Kayli Sarbaugh image 3

Figure 2: Boy Math versus Girl Math (


I find women and girls around my age, namely Gen Z, use this concept in a fun, playful way to connect with each other and sometimes to be humorous and do spontaneous things, like buy a new pair of shoes that are on sale. We take this term and use it according to our own experience as girls and women and, similar to other terms that are used positively to form in-group association, it is as though women are claiming this idea as a means of connection and community within the feminine experience. The creation of other kinds of “math's” out of this term (e.g., Boy Math) pushes back on misogynistic undertones girls and women might notice when other people utilize the term in a more negative light.  


Kayli Sarbaugh image 4

Figure 3: Girl Math Definitions (


Girl Math could also be seen as potentially problematic is its use of the reference form “girl” and not “woman” or “female” math. The use of “girl” rather than another word implies the person using the logic is naive, as it appeals to youth. However, in my opinion, “girl” adds youthfulness and creative energy to the term and allows for connection within the online meme world. The fact that there is also Boy Math and not Man Math could imply this is more about the youthfulness of those using these terms in general.  

Overall, Girl Math, while potentially having negative metamessages directed towards women, is used by women and girls in a positive light online and is an interesting example of how the evolution of popular slang overtime can help bring together different communities. Companies such as BarkBox that effectively use emerging terms viewed as entertaining and ‘cool’ in their marketing are in turn able to create a sense of belonging and relatability between their products and consumers. 


Title Image Credit 

  1. What Is '"girl math"'? The TikTok Trend, Explained (


  1. myboyrudder. (2023, November 14). "girl math": BarkBox . TikTok. Retrieved March 12, 2024, from
  2. Tannen, D. (2013) The medium is the metamessage. In Tannen, D., & Trester, A. M. (Eds.), Discourse 2.0: Language and New Media, p. 99-118. Georgetown University Press.

  3. "What is "Girl Math?".

  4. "Girl Math versus Boy Math".

  5. "Girl Math defintions".